Why I Don’t Believe in Laziness


Why I Don’t Believe in Laziness


“Laziness” isn’t a moral failure—it may be our bodies and nervous systems asking for a break so that we can heal more deeply.

What do you think laziness means? Most of us think of it as idleness, especially when something needs to get done. The image of a “lazy person” is of someone sitting on the couch watching TV or scrolling through their phone when the garbage needs to be taken out. Laziness is associated with procrastination, an inability or unwillingness to complete the task required. Most of us also think of this as a bad thing.

What if it’s not? What if laziness—sitting on the couch scrolling on your phone, unable to get up even though the garbage needs to go out—is a natural human need? What if it’s even more than that: a resistance to productivity, a rebellious act of rest?

Challenging the Protestant Work Ethic

Most of us live in a culture that is very focused on work and getting things done. In puritanical Protestant Christianity, which was the dominant ethos in North America and Europe for a long time (and still is, to a degree), work was seen as a value that brought us closer to God. In his 1905 book The Protestant Ethic and the Spirit of Capitalism, Max Weber argued that the Protestant focus on work and abhorrence of sloth helped entrench capitalism into our society.

The concept of laziness implies that we have to earn our right to exist in the world. That we can only sit on the couch and relax after we’ve accomplished a long, hard day of work. That pleasure, joy, and ease are not our birthright, but must rather be deserved through hard work and suffering. You know this if you’ve ever seen an ad for chocolate using words like “you deserve it” or “you’ve earned it.” Why can we not simply eat chocolate because we like it? Why must there be a barrier between us and simple pleasure?

The Radical Nature of Rest

Rest is radical in a capitalist society. Laziness may be our body’s rebellion against forced labor. This is especially true if we are under stress or have experienced trauma. The human body is always trying to regulate itself, to bring itself back into balance. We can’t always will ourselves to do something when our body’s instincts override that task. The body will always choose survival, every single time, and what we call laziness may be our body’s attempt to bring itself back into balance.

One of the reasons many diets don’t work is that when we restrict calories and ignore hunger cues, the body assumes we are starving; that there’s not enough food for our survival. So we start craving high-calorie foods that will be more likely to sustain us in the long run. If the body thinks we’re starving and there is both a plate of celery and a plate of cookies in front of us, we’ll eat the cookies—probably all of them. That’s not because we’re overindulgent or self-sabotaging; it’s because our bodies know that cookies have a way higher survival value than celery and that we’d better eat them now because our body doesn’t know when we’ll see food again.

Laziness works the same way. If we’re exhausted, stressed, and replacing good sleep with caffeine or staying up late drinking trying to reclaim our hard-won leisure time, our bodies know we need rest—like, now. From the body’s perspective, rest has a way higher survival value than taking out the garbage, so our body will park us on the couch. The problem is that when we do this, we feel so guilty about sitting down that, instead of fully receiving the rest we need, we stress further about what we’re not getting done, which prevents that rest from restoring us.

The Impact of a Dysregulated Nervous System

When there’s trauma stored in the body, which is very common, the nervous system is fundamentally dysregulated. The body struggles to come back to equilibrium because moments of quiet can be filled with anxious thoughts, flashbacks, or difficult feelings rather than genuine rest. What looks like laziness could be a dysregulated nervous system trying (and failing) to come back to balance. It’s not that we don’t want to take the garbage out, it’s that we physically can’t take the garbage out.

If you worry about being lazy, you may want to take a moment to ask yourself if all those things you’re worried about really need to get done. You may need to engage in actual rest, which requires you to be able to slow down and feel without desperately trying to avoid yourself. This can look like more sleep, bodywork, counseling, or implementing habits of conscious rest.

Beyond this, though, you may need to consider whether or not you believe you have a right to exist without accomplishing anything in particular. If you feel that way, know that you’re not alone—that’s what our culture teaches us. Rest can be a radical act. Choose it bravely.

Lean into relaxation with these five tips to turn fight-or-flight into rest-and-digest.


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Why I Dont Believe in Laziness

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